Fusion – miracle of world energy

Despite the fact that the problem of thermonuclear synthesis more than half a century, people only coming to its decision. Why it happened and whether we manage to find the key to this reaction to exhaustion of fossil fuels?

Optimism is a good thing, but not self-sufficient. For example, the theory of probability, every mortal must sometimes fall a brick. To do this absolutely nothing is impossible: the law of the Universe. Turns out the only thing that can ever drive a death on the street in such turbulent times, is the belief in the best. But the employee housing sector the motivation is more complex: it pushes on the street just the same brick, which tries for someone to fall. Because a worker about this brick knows and can fix everything. Uniformly may not be correct, but the important thing is that any solution of the blind optimism it is not any consolation.

In this position in the twentieth century, there was a whole industry — the global energy sector. People are empowered to decide decided that the coal, oil and natural gas will, like the sun in the song, always, that the brick is sitting tight and not going anywhere. Let’s go — so is the fusion, albeit not completely controlled. The logic is this: opened it quickly, then just as quickly will win. But as the years went by the patronymic of the tyrant were forgotten, and fusion has not been achieved. It was just flirting, but required more courtesy than had mortals. They, by the way, meant nothing, was himself quietly optimistic.

Reason to sairset on the chair appeared when on the finiteness of fossil fuels have begun to speak publicly. Moreover, what it is, the limb is unclear. First, the exact amount has not yet been found in the oil or, say, gas counting is difficult. Second, the prediction is complicated due to price fluctuations in the market depends on the speed of production. And, thirdly, the consumption of various fuel intermittent in time and space: for example, in 2015 the global demand for coal (a third of all available energy) fell for the first time since 2009, but by 2040 is expected to increase dramatically, especially in China and the middle East.

For clarity, we take the IEA (International energy Agency) and outline the border in 40-270 years. Imagine then the fossil fuel runs out.

Another drawback of fossil fuels, discovered late — harmful emissions. The burning of coal, oil and natural gas produces carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and other nasty things that enter the atmosphere. The more the atmosphere of such volatiles, the less sunlight the Earth reflects back into space and the stranger weather. The situation with emissions became so delicate that recently the IPCC (intergovernmental panel on climate change) has announced an ultimatum: to abandon fossil fuels by 2100. Otherwise climate change will be irreversible.

What happens: a maximum of 270 years of the world’s energy needs can derail oil, coal and natural gas (80 percent of the electricity generated from them) and change to something else- safe, with high efficiency and to not beat on the pocket. Price — time priority for developing countries, including Russia, where demand for electricity is growing faster than GDP. It is terrible to imagine what awaits those who in OPEC (Organization of countries-exporters of oil) is not. But more to the point, rather, to “Revolver” the coming energy revolution — controlled thermonuclear fusion.

In Spite Of The Pendant

As we remember, the simplest atomic nucleus consists of positively charged proton and negatively charged electron. If the atomic nucleus, say, hydrogen to “attach” one neutron, you get an isotope — deuterium. If “attach” two neutrons, you get a different isotope tritium. With each new neutron atomic number and chemical properties of hydrogen will remain the same, but the mass number (sum of protons and neutrons) and the physical properties to change. The opportunity to design atomic nuclei, controlling their physical properties, and interested in nuclear physics.

To run fusion need to bring together two isotopes with small atomic numbers, for example deuterium and tritium, up to a distance of one atomic nucleus to those “stuck together” and formed a new, heavier nucleus, in the example of helium-4. According to Einstein’s formula E=mc2, this will lead to the release of huge amounts of energy, part of which (characteristically large) will get lonely neutron: in the collision of deuterium and tritium it will fly away and never come back. By the way, the nuclei — the first problem of synthesis, and a small atomic number it simplifies.


Scheme for thermonuclear fusion of deuterium and tritium

The fact that like-charged atomic nuclei actually have to be — in effect of the Coulomb repulsion. Therefore, the gas of deuterium and tritium it is necessary to disperse in vacuum by heating to temperatures over 100 million degrees Celsius. With the atoms in the result of the fall of the electron shell, and the gas goes into the plasma state, consisting only of charged particles, allowing you to Lord it over her with the help of magnetic traps. Actually for current applications 100 million degrees is not the limit, however, the maximum “hold time energy” in terror, half until less than 102 seconds.

The compromise between the confinement time of the plasma and the rate of reaction is fusion. Approaches to its solution as much as two, the number of the main types of reactors: quasistationary (scillatory and tokamak) and inertial. The first is a hollow “bagels”, in which the gas is heated by the current and is isolated from the inner walls by means of magnetic fields. The second is the “balls” in them frozen isotopes simultaneously ignited and compressed by the lasers. The difference is that the tokamaks and scillatory designed for long work with the rarefied plasma, “impulse” — on “shots” over Packed mixture.


The structure of the tokamak (left) and “normal” stelladora (right). / © Deutsche Physikalische Gesellschaft

Inquisitive reader, of course, noticed: fusion reactors already exist, and even different. Then why do we heat the bath with firewood and not plasma?

Star, war and physicist, self-taught

To feel pain which causes scientist the decision fusion puzzle, mentally go their way. In 1934, an American physicist of Soviet origin, George Gamow, looking at the stars, wondered: what makes them hot millions of years? With the recent opening of nucleons and the total rise of the nuclear thoughts he naturally reasoned that the matter in nuclear reactions. The hypothesis Gamow four years later developed American Hans Bethe. In the center of the Sun, considered beta, hydrogen nuclei collide, turning into the isotope, and then into other elements. The difference of their mass numbers and lights shone.

Was 1938. While romance talked about the world order, policy began the Anschluss and preparing for the cold war. In 1941, the American of Italian origin, one of the two “fathers” of the nuclear chain reaction Enrico Fermi, suggested to his colleagues on the Manhattan project to think about the bomb, not collapse, that is, nuclear, and fusion, i.e. hydrogen. The idea of Fermi is terrible I liked Edward Teller, and for two reasons: he loved challenges and was curious, and the task of splitting atomic nuclei at that time was half-solved (first nuclear power plant in the next, 1942, year). Interesting.


Edward Teller

Robert Oppenheimer such enthusiasm is not shared. But was formed of the “problem” of adherents of the fusion hypothesis, the spare unit under the direction of teller. When the “problem” the mathematician Stanislaw Ulam described a proposed algorithm for the fusion research came into practice. In 1951, six years after the nuclear tests, the United States conducted pre-and one year later a full-scale test of a thermonuclear charge. Fuel for it served as a liquid isotopes of hydrogen, which then, in order to increase power, was replaced by solid lithium deuteride-6 and -7.

The Soviet prototype of thermonuclear weapons, received the cozy name “Puff”, was ready by 1949, and in 1950 physicist, self-taught Oleg Lavrentiev — for a change — spoke in favor of industrial fusion. It would be nice, they say, not only break. After a few months, together with the Americans, Igor Tamm and Andrei Sakharov thought: the concept of Lavrentiev proposing to loop the motion of the plasma in the copper “donut hole” and to isolate its magnetic traps. In 1951, the year of the astrophysicist Lyman Spitzer had built the world’s first sample of thermonuclear reactor stellato.

I must say, the mention of nationalities there is no coincidence. The arms race inhibited the fusion energy no less than optimism and Coulomb repulsion. As a result, the Soviet Union, which collected the hydrogen bomb in the positions behind, your fusion reactor only appeared in 1954, and it was a tokamak. In the types of reactors also can be traced to the ideology or, if you will, existential approach: historically, it so happened that scillatory was more of the American tokamaks is rather Soviet. Looking ahead, we say that now this trend is irrelevant.

On the other hand, it is the request of the military spurred physicists on the scientific revolution. The next few years, the world was rocked by the mainly local conflicts, therefore, fusion power, devoid of the same global courtesy, hung out in the free swimming.

Let’s do another digression. Formally, stellately been considered to be more advanced than tokamaks. There are several reasons. First, in stallatio the plasma is heated and hold only the external currents and coils. In tokamaks, the ignition occurs due to the electric current flowing in the plasma and at the same time create an additional magnetic field. Because of this “donut hole” tokamak produce free electrons and ions with their magnetic fields, which strive to destroy the main field, to bring the temperature down and generally mess everything up.

Second, the camera stellatarum not just “bagels”, and “wrinkled bagels”: unlike tokamaks, they have no azimuthal symmetry. The coil on the “wrinkled bagels” stellatarum have a screw, a sub-form (in tokamaks, they are straight and parallel to each other) and “twist” the lines of force, that is, they are subjected to rotational transformation. It also stabilizes the plasma and also — pushes the theoretical limit of the optimum pressure in the chamber. And square pressure is proportional to the rate of reaction. The higher the pressure, the faster everything will happen.


Inside the toroidal chamber JET

Scillatory dominated exactly to 1969, when the plasma temperature (a volume of just one cubic meter) to the Soviet T-3, the first and only tokamak reached a record three million degrees Celsius, which is only five times less than the temperature in the center of the Sun. Denying the reality of the situation, British physicists volunteered to check the results of the experiment, but, alas, a miracle happened. The story of T-3 established on tokamaks fashion: they are clearer and cheaper in construction. And in 1983 in the UK were completed the largest of the existing fusion reactor — JET.

The volume of plasma in the JET amounted to about 100 cubic meters. For 30 years he set a series of records: the problem of thermonuclear fusion, heating the plasma to 150 million degrees Celsius was generated a power of 1 MW, and then to 16 megawatts with energy efficiency Q ~ 0,7… and the Ratio of energy expended to the received third problem of thermonuclear synthesis. Theoretically, self-sustaining burning plasma Q must cross the unit. But experience has shown that little is this: actually Q must be more than 20. Among the JET tokamak Q remains unconquered.


Construction site of ITER in the spring of 2016

New hope of the industry was the ITER tokamak, which is now the world building in France. The parameter Q from ITER should reach 10, power — 500 megawatts, which is just beginning to scatter in space. Work on this project is underway since 1985 and was supposed to end in 2016. But gradually, the construction cost increased from 5 to 19 billion euros, and the date of commissioning moved at 9-11 years. While ITER is positioned as a bridge to the reactor, DEMO, which, according to the plan in 2040-ies, will generate the first “nuclear” electricity.

Biography “pulse” system was less dramatic. When in the early 1970-ies, physicists have recognized that option “permanent” synthesis of non-ideal, it is proposed to strike out of the equation for plasma containment. Instead, the isotopes must be placed in mm plastic sphere, the — the Golden capsule, cooled to absolute zero, and the capsule — in camera. Then the capsule simultaneously “fired” lasers. The idea is that if you heat and compress the fuel quickly and uniformly, the reaction will occur prior to scattering of the plasma. And in 1974 the private company KMS Fusion the reaction received.


Gold capsule NIF

After a few experimental units and years it turned out that the “pulse” of synthesis is not so smooth. The uniformity of the compression was the problem: frozen isotopes are not turned to a perfect sphere, and “dumbbell”, which dramatically reduced the pressure and hence energy efficiency. The situation has led to the fact that in 2012, after four years of work, of despair almost closed the largest inertial American reactor NIF. But in 2013 he did something that failed JET: the first in nuclear physics received 1.5 times more energy than spent.

Now, in addition to the major problems of thermonuclear fusion decide to “pocket”, purely experimental, and “startup” settings of different designs. Sometimes they manage to perform a miracle. For example, recently, physicists from the University of Rochester surpassed delivered in 2013, a record of efficiency in four, and then five times. However, new restrictions on temperature and ignition pressure it did not disappear, and the experiments were carried out in the reactor, about three times smaller than NIF. And linear size, as we know, matters.

So why bother, you wonder? To make it clear what nuclear fusion is so attractive, compare it with “normal” fuel. For example, in each moment of time in the “donut hole” tokamak is one gram of isotopes. The collision of one deuterium and one tritium allocated 17.6 megaelectronvolt energy, or 0.000 000 000 002 Joule. Now statistics: the burning of one gram of wood will give us 7 thousand joules, coal — 34 thousand joules, gas or oil — 44 thousand joules. Burning the gram of isotopes should lead to the emission of 170 billion joules of heat. So much of the world consumes approximately 14 minutes.

Neutrons refugees and deadly HPP

Moreover, fusion is almost harmless. “Almost” — because the neutron that will leave and not return, taking some of the kinetic energy will leave the magnetic trap, but far can not. Soon fidget would be captured by the atomic nucleus of one of the sheets of the blanket metal “blanket” reactor. – , “Caught” neutron, it will become either stable, that is safe and relatively long-lasting or radioactive isotope — as lucky. Irradiation with reactor neutrons is called induced radiation. Her blanket will have to change every 10-100 years.

It’s time to clarify that the scheme of “clutch” of the isotopes described above was simplified. Unlike deuterium, which is eaten with a spoon, easy to create and meet in regular sea water, tritium is a radioisotope, and is synthesized artificially for indecent money. While storing it is meaningless: – quickly “falling apart.” In ITER tritium will be to get on the ground, colliding neutron with lithium-6 and adding separately prepared deuterium. As a result of the neutrons that try to “run” (along with tritium) and get stuck in blanketa, will be even greater than it might seem.


The types of radiation.

Despite this, the area of the radioactivity of the fusion reactor will be negligible. The irony is that the security provided by the imperfection of technology. Because the plasma has to hold, and “fuel” to add again and again, no oversight system will work for a few minutes (planned time of retention at ITER — 400 seconds) and goes out. But even with simultaneous destruction, according to the physics of Llwellyn Christopher Smith, to move the city do not have: due to low plasma density of tritium in it will be only 0.7 grams.

Of course, deuterium and tritium light a wedge has not converged. For fusion scientists see other couples: deuterium and deuterium, helium-3 and boron-11, the deuterium and helium-3, hydrogen and boron-11. In the last three no “runaway” of the neutrons and does not, and with pairs of hydrogen — boron-11 and deuterium — helium-3 are already working for two American companies. Just as long as, at the current stage of technological ignorance, to push the deuterium and tritium a little easier.

Yeah simple arithmetic is on the side of a new industry. Over the past 55 years, the world has experienced five breaks HPP, which killed as much as on the Russian roads killed during the eight years of 26 accidents at nuclear power plants, which have killed tens of thousands of times less people than breakthroughs hydroelectric power station and hundreds of incidents in thermal grids with God knows what consequences. But during the operation of fusion reactors, it seems, is nothing but nerve cells and budgets, is still intact.

Cold fusion

No matter how tiny it may be, and the chance to win big on “fusion” lottery agitated everyone, not just physicists. In March 1989, two fairly well-known chemist, American Stanley Pons and British Martin Fleischmann, gathered reporters to show the world a “cold” nuclear fusion. He worked so. In a solution of deuterium and lithium was placed a palladium electrode and through it was passed a constant current. Deuterium and lithium was absorbed by the palladium and the face, sometimes “linked” to the tritium and helium-4, suddenly heating the solution. And it is at room temperature and normal atmospheric pressure.

The prospect to get energy without resistance with temperature, pressure and challenging attitudes were too tempting, and the next day, Fleischmann and Pons woke up famous. Authorities in Utah have identified in their studies of “cold” fusion $ 5 million, another $ 25 million from the US Congress has requested that the University, which employs Pons. A spoonful of tar in history, added two points. First, the details of the experiment appeared in The Journal of Electroanalytical Chemistry and Interfacial Electrochemistry in April, a month after the press conference. This was contrary to scientific etiquette.


Stanley Pons (left) and Martin Fleischmann (right).

Secondly, specialists in nuclear physics to Fleischmann and Pons a lot of questions. For example, why in their reactor, the collision of two deuterons gives tritium and helium-4, when should give tritium and a proton or a neutron and helium-3? And check out this was simple: provided that the palladium electrode was nuclear fusion, isotopes “flew” to neutrons with a known kinetic energy. But neither the sensors of neutrons or reproduction of the experiment by other scientists, such results have not led. For lack of data in may, the sensation of chemists was recognized as a “duck.”

Despite this, the work of Pons and Fleishman made in nuclear physics and chemistry confusion. What happened: a kind of reaction isotopes of palladium and electricity led to the release of positive energy, or rather, to spontaneous heating of the solution. In 2008, a similar installation showed reporters the Japanese scientists. They were placed in a flask palladium and zirconium oxide under pressure pumped into it deuterium. Because of the pressure kernel “rubbed” together and become helium, releasing energy. As in the experiment of Fleischmann-Pons, “betatronic” reactions of synthesis, the authors judged only on the temperature in the flask.

Have a physics explanation was not. But it could be chemical if the substance changes the catalysts — “boosters” reactions? One such “accelerator” allegedly used by the Italian engineer Andrea Rossi. In 2009 he, along with physicist Sergio Focardi applied for the invention of apparatus for “low energy nuclear reactions”. This 20-centimeter ceramic tube in which to place powder of Nickel, an unknown catalyst and under pressure is pumped with hydrogen. The tube is heated by a conventional electric heater, partially turning Nickel into copper with the release of neutrons and positive energy.

To the patent of Rossi and Focardi mechanics “reactor” was never released out of principle. Then, citing commercial secrecy. In 2011 the installation began to check journalists and scientists (somehow the same). The verification was as follows. The tube was heated for several hours, measured input and output power and studied the isotopic composition of Nickel. Open was impossible. The words of the developer was confirmed: the energy comes out in 30 times more the composition of the Nickel changes. But how? For such a reaction need not 200 degrees, and all the 20 billion degrees Celsius, as the core of Nickel even heavier than iron.


Andrea Rossi during a test machine for “low energy nuclear reactions” (left)

None of the scientific Italian magazine “wizards” was never published. A pretty quickly gave up on “low-energy reactions” hand, although the followers of the method has. Now Rossi is suing the patent holder, a U.S. company Industrial Heat, on charges of theft of intellectual property. She considers him a fraud, and checking with the experts, “lime.”

And yet “cold” nuclear fusion exists. It is really based on the “catalyst” of the muons. Muons (negatively charged) “vypinyvayut” electrons from atomic orbitals, to form the mesons. If you push the mesons with e.g., a deuterium, you get a positively charged mesomolecule. And since the muon is 207 times heavier than electron, the nucleus of mesomolecule will be 207 times closer to each other — the same effect can be achieved by heating the isotope to 30 million degrees Celsius. Therefore, the nuclei of the Mesic “engage” themselves, without heat, and muon “jumps” to other atoms, it is not “bogged down” in a Mesic atom of helium.

By 2016, the muon taught to make about 100 of these “jumps”. Then either the Mesic atom of helium, or decay (the lifetime of a muon is only 2.2 microseconds). Ovchinka not worth the candle: the amount received from 100 jumps of energy less than 2 GeV, and the creation of one of the muon need 5-10 GeV. To cold fusion, rather, “muon catalysis”, was the best, each muon must learn 10 thousand “jumps” or, finally, to cease to demand from mortals too much. In the end, to the stone age with pioneer stake instead of the CHP — left some 250 years.

However, the finiteness of fossil fuels do not believe everything. Mendeleev, for example, denied the exhaustibility of oil. She thought of the chemist, — a product of abiotic reactions, and is not decomposed pterodactyls, so self-healing. Rumours to the contrary, Mendeleev was charged to the Nobel brothers, who in the late nineteenth century swung the oil monopoly. Followed by the Soviet physicist Lev Artsimovich was completely convinced that fusion energy will appear only when it is “really” necessary to mankind. It turns out that the Mendeleev and Artsimovich was even individuals and decisive, and yet — optimistic.

And fusion energy, we really don’t need.